The right trait in the right place at the right time: Matching traits to environment improves restoration outcomes
The challenges of restoration in dryland ecosystems are growing due to a rise in anthropogenic disturbance and increasing aridity. Plant functional traits are often used to predict plant performance and can offer a window into potential outcomes of restoration efforts across environmental gradients. We analyzed a database including 15 yr of seeding outcomes across 150 sites on the Colorado Plateau, a cold desert ecoregion in the western United States, and analyzed the independent and interactive effects of functional traits (seed mass, height, and specific leaf area) and local biologically relevant climate variables on seeding success. We predicted that the best models would include an interaction between plant traits and climate, indicating a need to match the right trait value to the right climate conditions to maximize seeding success. Indeed, we found that both plant height and seed size significantly interacted with temperature seasonality, with larger seeds and taller plants performing better in more seasonal environments. We also determined that these trait?environment patterns are not influenced by whether a species is native or nonnative. Our results inform the selection of seed mixes for restoring areas with specific climatic conditions, while also demonstrating the strong influence of temperature seasonality on seeding success in the Colorado Plateau region.